Tear it Down

WORCESTER — The Caterpillar excavator’s claws were open and the large claws of an excavator were in place for a ceremony to mark the demolition of the former Worcester Vocational High School at Lincoln Square yesterday. The demolition will begin later this month.

In the next week or so, workers will begin demolition of the vacant Grove Street building, starting the first phase of a project that will renovate the site into rental housing and parking. The $1.2 million phase one is funded through grants of $400,000 each by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Development Finance Corp. and the Worcester Business Development Corp.

During the course of the work, crews will remove asbestos and raze the building, and remove soil from the site that was contaminated from leaking underground fuel oil tanks. The project is part of the Gateway Park Master Plan, which envisions rental housing in the Lincoln Square area to complement the adjacent development of Gateway Park, an 11-acre mixed-use commercial office park focused on life sciences, and bioengineering research and development.

The first phase is slated for completion in June, said Jonathan Weaver, project manager for WBDC. Following this first phase, Winn Development of Boston will renovate Building C, the remaining U-shaped brick building, into 67 rental units, he said.

“The housing will be part of a mixed-use strategy for this area,” said WBDC President David P. Forsberg, one of several officials to speak at a press conference at the rear of the former WITI building.

“This is one of the important next steps in the Gateway project revitalizing the area,” Mr. Forsberg said. “Housing will be a part of the mixed use strategy.”

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, lauded WBDC and the city administration for working together through some difficulty to further economic development.

“Worcester is renowned for reclamation of brownfield sites,” he said. “There’s no better example of Worcester’s success on that front than Gateway Park. … However, realizing the full potential of Gateway Park depends directly on the availability of high-quality affordable housing for the world-class scientists and researchers who work there.”

City Manager Michael V. O’Brien said the project is an example of a public/private partnership that can see a complex project through.

“Today is about demolition, but in the end it’s about community building,” Mr. O’Brien said. “What happens here will be key to the redevelopment of Lincoln Square.”

Carol G. Tucker, regional brownfields section chief for the EPA, said yesterday’s event marked another milestone for the project.

“This project would not have happened without innovative thinking,” she said, “and by finding a way to leverage economic opportunities. Think of brownfields as assets, and put underutilized space to use.”